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Why Aren’t The Kids Getting Minutes In Utica? Don’t Blame It On The Coaching Staff

 

I get asked a lot of questions about why Trent Cull won’t play the kids in Utica. I’m here to tell you that I don’t think it’s for a lack of trying.

The coach can only throw 12 forwards out on the ice in any given game. That’s just the way it is. The issue that the coaching staff find themselves with is that they currently have 17 forwards on their roster.

Of those 17, Carter Bancks, Wacey Hamilton, Cam Darcy, Brendan Woods, Vincent Arseneau, and Tanner MacMaster are on AHL deals with the Comets.

One of the reasons why the parent Canucks cut ties with the Chicago Wolves was because they didn’t own the team and didn’t like seeing their prospects sitting in favour of players who were signed by Wolves ownership.

The Canucks bought the Peoria Rivermen franchise and moved them to Utica six years ago, partly in order to have more control over how their prospects were being deployed.

With that in mind, it’s easy to opine that the coaching staff should sit the AHL contracted players and play the kids instead. There are a few issues with that line of thinking, however.

One of those players, Carter Bancks, is the captain of the team and often has a younger player on his line or on the penalty kill with him as he shows them the ropes of playing a complete game at the AHL level. He is the captain for a reason and has earned that trust from not just Trent Cull, but from Canucks head coach, Travis Green before him. Bancks will be playing most games if he’s healthy.

Another one of those AHL contracted players is Tanner MacMaster. The 22-year-old forward who joined the Comets out of Quinnipiac late last season has been found money of sorts for the organization and is well worth developing further. In his 19 games between this year and last, he has put up 12 points, or 0.63 points per game. He also led all Comets rookies with four points in their five-game playoff series with the Toronto Marlies. He has played in all six games this year and has five points. He should be playing, he’s earned it.

Wacey Hamilton is currently injured and is listed as week-to-week. He hasn’t factored into the equation yet, but as a staple on last season’s very good penalty kill, and a player who wore an “A” on his jersey, he will very likely be high on the coach’s list to get back out there when he’s healthy, but for now I won’t factor him into the 12 man forward group. FYI, last season was also a career-year for Hamilton.

Vincent Arseneau has yet to play a game, so I’m not sure we can put any blame on his presence in the line up as a reason why the kids aren’t playing. That said, after a 6-1 loss, it’s entirely possible that the coach may insert him into the lineup to shake things up.

That brings us to Brendan Woods and Cam Darcy. Darcy has a previous history with Cull from their time in the Syracuse organization, and he provided decent secondary scoring last season in Utica while working on both special teams at times. He has earned the coach’s trust, though Cull has scratched him once this year already. He’s got three points in his five games. Darcy plays the middle, which if you aren’t aware, isn’t exactly a position of strength for the Comets.

Woods has played in all six games this year and has put up two points while also eating up minutes on the penalty kill. He also plays the middle, brings a physical game, and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves when needed. He too, has earned the trust of the coaching staff.

The common theme here, if you are following along, is that these players have all earned a certain level of trust with the coaching staff. A couple of them also play a position where the team is lacking proper depth.

The only Canucks’ signed players to start the season in Utica who are centres…and who’ve been playing centre regularly were Tanner Kero and Adam Gaudette. Gaudette is now in Vancouver, making Darcy and Woods all the less likely to come out of the lineup.

The AHL contracted players only make up six of the 17 forwards that Cull has to juggle in and out of the lineup. If we assume that Bancks, MacMaster, Darcy, and Woods will all be playing because of the above-mentioned reasons, that leaves us with just eight spots left to round out a 12-man forward group.

With 10 points through six games, you’d be a fool to suggest sitting Reid Boucher, so now we are down to seven roster spots remaining. Tanner Kero, well he has six points in six games, and oh yeah, he plays the middle and works on both special teams. Six spots remaining.

Darren Archibald? A healthy scratch? Not likely, outside of sitting for the veteran rule. Even then, the man that is known as The Mayor in Utica isn’t likely going to sit. He kills penalties as well. Down to five spots.

Should Trent Cull park Zack MacEwen? He is second in team scoring with six points and plays the power play. MacEwen just keeps improving and he has earned the coach’s trust since early last season when he was pressed into top-six action early on. The team knows that they have a player in MacEwen and it sounds like they have a plan in place for him. Four spots remaining.

There’s that Brendan Gaunce fellow, and he will be playing. He is currently listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury, but he sounds like he isn’t far off. For now, we won’t include him. Still, four spots remaining.

That leaves us with a group consisting of Michael Carcone, he put up 15 goals last season as a second-year pro, played both special teams and has two points in the three games he’s played this year, Jonathan Dahlen, Lukas Jasek, Kole Lind, Petrus Palmu, and Jonah Gadjovich.

Math has never been an area of strength for me, but I’m not sure that you can squeeze six forwards into the remaining four roster spots.

So Trent Cull and his staff have been shuffling that group of six in and out of the lineup. All but Palmu have seen time on either the power play, the penalty kill, or both. They may not be getting a lot of games in, but they are getting some quality opportunities when they do get in.

I understand that Lukas Jasek has even been practicing as a centre as the team may want to take a look at him in the middle. That would give Jasek that much more opportunity to pick up more ice-time.

Do you remember what I was pointing out above with players earning Cull’s trust and staying in the lineup? I believe that he is giving these young players chances on special teams in order to help them earn his trust this year. When Zack MacEwen, Guillaume Brisebois, and Jalen Chatfield proved to the coaching staff that they could handle bigger roles last year, they got to keep those roles.

I can see the same thing happening this season with the group of six as they continue to prove to the coach that he needs to keep them in the lineup. Frankly, the only reason Carcone is in that group is that he was a healthy scratch for the first three games.

Six Pack Shuffle

  1. Jonathan Dahlen: Five games played, three assists, two penalty minutes. Gets time on PP. Linemates to date: Kero, Bancks, Gaunce, Gaudette, Archibald, Jasek.
  2. Michael Carcone: Three games played, one goal, one assist, 0 PIM. Gets time on PK. Linemates to date: Archibald, Darcy, Bancks, Jasek.
  3. Kole Lind: Four games played, two assists, two penalty minutes. Gets time on PP. Linemates to date: Woods, MacEwen, Bancks, Gaudette, Archibald.
  4. Lukas Jasek: Three games played, one goal, 0 PIM. Gets time on PP. Linemates to date: Bancks, Carcone, Dahlen, Gadjovich.
  5. Jonah Gadjovich: Two games played, 0 points, 0 PIM. Gets time on PP and PK. Linemates to date: Darcy, MacEwen, Bancks, Jasek.
  6. Petrus Palmu: Two games played, 0 points, 0 PIM. No special teams work. Linemates to date: Gaudette, Archibald, Woods, MacEwen.

I don’t think there is any conspiracy from Trent Cull and his staff to stifle these young players, in fact, I believe it to be the opposite. Zack MacEwen has gushed about this coaching staff in radio interviews that I have heard, and he had a pretty good rookie season last year. I think these guys know what they are doing.

For now, it is a numbers game until the injuries hit and the call-ups happen, but I think that if folks show some patience for the long game here, you won’t be so disappointed when the season wraps up. These kids will play.

Is it even possible, right now to get every player into the lineup who we know will be playing as well as all of the kids? Yes, almost…but I’m not sure it’s a lineup that Trent Cull would have an appetite to roll with just yet.

Dahlen – Kero – Boucher

Archibald – MacMaster – Jasek

  Lind – Darcy – MacEwen

Gadjovich – Bancks – Palmu

That lineup leaves the 15-goal man, and swiss army knife, Michael Carcone out in the cold as well as that Brendan Gaunce fellow who might be back before this article goes up on the site.

What does a more realistic lineup with the current healthy group look like? Maybe something like this?

Dahlen/MacMaster – Kero – Boucher

Archibald – Darcy – Carcone/Dahlen

Lind/Palmu – Woods – MacEwen

Dahlen/Gadjovich – Bancks – Jasek

Or…more or less what Trent Cull and his staff have been doing since the start of the season.

So, can you be angry with the coaching staff for not giving your favourite young prospects a fair shake? No, in my opinion, you can’t. They have a juggling act to perform with these kids and thinking that they have anything but their best interests in mind as players would be a foolish assumption on your part. Their job is to develop these players into NHL regulars and put them in positions to succeed. They see these players in practice, and they identify what they need to work on and help them to improve in those areas.

Can you be angry at management for having too many forwards on the roster? Maybe, but after using close to 60 players last season and gobbling up ECHL players on PTO deals on the regular, maybe having a few extra bodies around isn’t such a bad idea. Should you blame management for having too many good young players in Utica that you want to see playing? Uh…sure, if you want.

Until these young players are up to speed, they will need some insulation around them and management has identified the current group of insulators as players of high character who fit the culture that they want to have in Utica.

The club could elect at some point to send Gadjovich back to junior if they feel like his development is being compromised as his contract can “slide”, meaning they wouldn’t eat up a year of his entry-level deal. They don’t have the same benefit with Kole Lind if they were to send him back to junior.

They could also try to do something like Kyle Dubas’ Maple Leafs and place a prospect or two in the ECHL for a spell to help them get up to speed at the pro level.

When Gaunce and Hamilton are back, even more decisions will have to be made up front. Not to mention the fact that the addition of Alex Biega puts the club one player over the veteran limit that can be played in a given game.

Is it possible that we could see a trade made by Vancouver to alleviate this situation somewhat? I suppose it’s possible. It might make a few player agents happier. Until that happens, though, the word of the day in Utica is patience.

  • argoleas

    We forget that a lot of the problem here is a result of some very good drafting that came together at the same time. And as you said, injuries will (in fact, already have) alleviated some of the pressure.

    For some players (say like Gadjovich) is ECHL > OHL?

    • Chris the Curmudgeon

      I think the sooner teams start to view the ECHL as a legitimate development league (like AA in baseball) rather than hockey purgatory, the better. It would be a good place for Gadjovich, and that’s no slight against him.

      • Fred-65

        I wonder if they could find a “loan” spot on another AHL team for the surplus players. Obviously it’s possible and with in the rules ie Gagner. ……. ??

  • argoleas

    What I would like to find out is whether this logjam had some impact on Brassard being sent back to Oshawa in lieu of getting a contract and playing in Utica, where they are starved for offensive RHDmen. I imagine the uncertainty of the duration of his injury probably played some part too.

    Or, maybe Canucks are still not yet sold on him being someone worth a contract spot (a la Carl Neill from 2015).

    • Cory Hergott

      Argo: Brassard suffered a season-ending injury last year and wasn’t expected to be playing again until December. I think that was the reasoning behind giving him another year in junior. He would have been behind the eight-ball as far as his offseason training etc.

      • apr

        Wouldn’t it help Lind and Palmu if they were getting more regular ice time in the ECHL? Or are the optics too bad? Injuries are starting to hit the Nucks, and I expect a few more to go down in December if history repeats. Lind and Palmu could be back right away.

        • Cory Hergott

          I would be fine with the team sending a guy or two to the ECHL for some games. That said, the kids are getting into games and the inevitable injuries will pile up as they always do. They will get their minutes as the season goes on.

    • Nuck16

      If we had waived MDZ sooner maybe Brassard sticks around for a few games…would have done him well to get a taste of the bigs before returning to work on his game.

  • Robson Street

    I know there’s a lot of talk about pride and respect, but the Canucks should just stick to their game plan. By this, I of course mean trade for Matheson, play him 25 minutes a night with Gudbranson, lose hockey games and lose the draft lottery to Edmonton.

  • Beer Can Boyd

    I’m not sure about the quality of professional hockey in the ECHL, but I’ll bet it would be fun going to an Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies, or a Baton Rouge Kingfish game! Our line starts, coach? Seriously though, if guys like Palmu,Jasek, and Gadjovich are being healthy scratched, get them somewhere that they can play 20 minutes a game. ECHL, Junior, or back to Europe. And in the future, stop signing so many career AHL players!

  • Ragnarok Ouroboros

    I have a stupid question. Can an NHL team have more that one farm team? IE and AHL team in the east and in the west? IE Canucks could split their prospects between 2 AHL teams or equivalent?

    • Puck Viking

      Good question. Could have one in Abbottsford for players who are more NHL ready and Utica could be used for players requiring more time. Then no need to waste time with an echl affiliate except for call ups.

    • Cory Hergott

      I have no idea if a team can have more than one AHL affiliate at a time. I’d imagine that would be a pricey venture. And let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. The Canucks don’t have nearly enough prospects to flesh out two rosters.

    • Charlie y

      https://www.nhl.com/oilers/news/information-on-the-50-contract-roster-limit-and-90-player-maximum-reserve-list/c-430807

      I think the 50 contract limit would make it impossible to have two farm teams. Perhaps if an NHL team were to assign or ‘loan’ prospects to to an unaffiliated team the youth could be spread around and get more AHL playing time, but this would likely make it impossible to have a full farm team roster and therefore all of a teams prospects would be bouncing around the AHL at the whims and coaching of any number of team staffs. If that’s true (correct me if I’m misinterpreting), no team would ever go for that.
      Gagner is clearly not a Canucks prospect, so please don’t use him as an example.

  • j2daff

    not sure I agree with the lack of center depth statement.
    MacMaster
    MacEwen
    Gaunce

    have all played center with some success at the AHL level and have not played this year. Dahlen play some center in Europe, Jasek is practicing center according to the article. That’s five possibilities that haven’t played center at all this year. Kinda doesn’t seem like a lack of depth to me.

    for the most part I agree with the article and to be honest I hope Biega playing forces a veteran forward to sit and gives Gadjovich/Palmu a few more games. Neither looked bad in preseason, both looked good in the young stars, and although I’m relying on CA game reviews, both seem to be playing well enough to stick in the AHL. I would hate to see their development stunted by lack of game time though so depending on how the vets roll out and injuries come into play the ECHL (or even junior for Gads.) isn’t out of the question but not preferred imo.

    • Cory Hergott

      J2D: I have written in the past about all of those players having played the middle in the past. I have advocated in this space many times for MacEwen to be tried in the middle. MacMaster as well. The fact is, the team wants MacEwen on the wing right now. I wouldn’t be surprised to see MacMaster back in the middle as he played well there in their preseason. The big club has always seen Gaunce on the wing and that’s where I expect they will play him the most while he is with the team. I agree, there are options

      • j2daff

        in all honesty, I do recall you having written about them being able to play in the middle and also you’re advocation for MacEwen to be tried. My point was more to the simple fact that I personally don’t see the team as having a lack of center depth. I didn’t even mention Gaudette lol (sorry that’s a little cheeky). But truthfully this is the only part of the article and it’s effect on the deployment in general that I question. Personally I think MacEwen (MacMaster at some point too) should, and has earned a chance at center even over the vets, which we may still see later in the year. If he was moved to center it might, as the dominos fell, force one of the vets into the winger rotation with guys like Dahlen and Lind but open an extra spot due to MacEwen moving to center. 7 guys for 5 spots means more games than 6 guys for 4 spots.

        You are correct then big club has used Gaunce typically on the wing but if I remember correctly the opposite has been true in the A.

  • Kanuckhotep

    The “A” sounds like a very tough league to play in but at least, Cory, you give perspective to guys like me who know nothing about this league. It may not hurt Jonah G to go back to the “0” if being in Utica is not presently the right fit for him and the organization if this is the case. Little Palmu was dynamite in the Finnish League last year and IMO neither the Canucks nor the Comets have given him sufficient ice time on this side of the Atlantic. He could become an Arku Ruutu but with more skill. Thanks, Cory, I’m now into the farm team.

      • j2daff

        Thank you for the update. Good to hear. He is a guy I see developing into an effect 2nd or 3rd(more likely) liner with grit, drive and some hot streaks. He had flashes in the post season but obviously needs some development time.

  • TD

    The only place I would disagree is that some of the veteran or AHL players have to play. I want Utica to win, but if there was a choice between winning in Utica at the expense of developing or focusing on developing the players and losing, I would take the development route. I know it’s not that simple and some vets are needed to help player development, but vets can sit as easily as the kids. The AHL is a development league and they are owned by the Canucks. Development should always be the priority, regardless of how the vets are playing.

    • ben49

      Its a little early to panic over ice time, if this situation is still happening in January then storm the walls. I think that gifting a young player ice time is a mistake. Coaches watch practice habits, and good practice habits develop good players

      • TD

        I’m not too worried about the ice and agree that effort and other factors can affect ice time, I just disagree with the premise that some of the vets have to play. You need some for structure and experience, but winning is less important than prospect development.

    • Kanucked

      I agree. Management always pushes the notion that the NHL isn’t a development league and the prospects need to play.

      I’m sorry I don’t buy that argument for the AHL. It is a development league. Why sign these AHL vets in the summer when you have all these prospects who need playing time.

      Yes there will be injuries, but I think management over corrected signing 3 bottom six players at the NHL level and additional players st the AHL level.

  • Defenceman Factory

    Some of the youth are not getting a lot of minutes and it is absolutely the responsibility of the coaching staff and management. They signed the AHL contracts and make all the decisions on who sits and who plays. These are deliberate decisions created by the circumstances they created.

    That said I believe coaching and management are correct in how they are handling things. I expect at least a couple players will get sent to Kzoo and injuries in Utica and Vancouver will increase minutes. Not playing gives players more opportunity to learn and train and extra incentive to work hard when they do play. The season is young, the minutes will come. The organization will make well informed decisions on where those minutes will be.